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The Politics Of Trade Under Trump

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President-elect Trump dug in over the weekend on his approach to trade.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

He threatened, quote, "retribution or consequence" for companies that move workers out of the United States and then try to sell goods back to the U.S.

MARTIN: The threat came after Carrier agreed to keep some but not all of its jobs in Indiana in exchange for tax benefits.

INSKEEP: Vice President-elect Mike Pence told NBC over the weekend that the president-elect made a simple appeal.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

MIKE PENCE: He picked up the phone and he said to the leadership of this company, look, we're going to cut taxes. We're going to roll back the regulations that are driving companies just like yours out of the country. We're going to renegotiate trade deals so that they put American jobs and American workers first. And he just asked them very respectfully to reconsider their decision to leave.

MARTIN: Some economists and even Trump allies like Sarah Palin critiqued this move.

INSKEEP: They call it crony capitalism, among other things, since a company that has U.S. government contracts got a tax break and gave the president-elect a headline and still did not keep all of its jobs in the United States.

MARTIN: We're going to get two perspectives on this now from Salena Zito. She is now with CNN. People who follow politics have followed her writing for years. Also we've got in studio Jonah Goldberg. He's senior editor of National Review. Good morning to both of you.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Good morning.

SALENA ZITO: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Salena, what did Carrier workers tell you when you were in Indiana last week?

ZITO: Well, I went out for the event, and I talked to a couple of them before and afterwards. And the employees that I talked to had - did not vote for Trump, but they were incredibly ecstatic. Not only did their jobs were going to be saved, the ones that I talked to knew that their jobs were going to be saved. They had been there for anywhere between 16 and 20 years. But more importantly, what they - what they loved about it was that someone came out - a president, or a soon-to-be president, of the United States came out to the middle of nowhere, as they put it, and heard them and paid attention to them.

INSKEEP: Well, as a guy from Indiana, I don't think it's the middle of nowhere, personally.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: But I understand the point that they were making.

ZITO: Well, I think they, you know, west side of Indianapolis, they think that, you know, they're the - it's not New York. It's not Washington, right? It's not these sort of places that you have all these lines - lights shined on them. And they liked that someone saw value and dignity in their jobs (unintelligible).

INSKEEP: So, Jonah Goldberg, even though not all the jobs were saved, people seem kind of touched by it. What's wrong with that, if anything?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, no, look, I think everyone feels happy for the people whose jobs were saved. And I think focusing on the jobs that weren't I don't think has a lot of political traction. The problem with this is that while it's a political bonanza for Donald Trump and it was a masterstroke politically, economically and policy-wise it could pretend some very bad things.

Donald Trump seems to be signaling that, as Mike Pence said yesterday on the same interview that you guys play it from, that he will intervene on a case-by-case basis wherever he aesthetically, morally, emotionally thinks the government should - think it can - knows better than business leaders. And that is a system of sort of Napoleonic expertise in the executive branch that says the president is smarter than the economy, which is something Republicans and conservatives normally decry when it comes from Democrats.

MARTIN: Well, exactly. President Obama has gotten a lot of heat for his use of executive action and, if we can draw a kind of parallel, the decision on the Dakota pipeline that was just reached. Is - if people don't like it when President Obama exerts his executive powers, are they going to like it when Trump does?

GOLDBERG: Well, apparently. I mean, we're in strange waters here. I - look, one of the reasons I was opposed to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the primaries and in the general election was that I wanted to take a consistent position and say when the president of the Democrat - when a Democratic president picks winners and losers in the economy, it's wrong. When a Republican picks winners and losers in the economy, it's wrong.

INSKEEP: Salena Zito, as somebody who's interviewed voters across the country in this election year, do you think - do you think people are more concerned about just getting a few more jobs or are more concerned about these concepts that Jonah's laying out?

ZITO: Well, I think it's a little bit of both. You know, voters, especially the sort of coalition that Trump put together, which is Republicans but it's also a lot of that sort of traditional New Deal Democrats who like programs and, you know, that they benefit from but don't tend to be more elite, you know, they look at this decision and these kinds of decisions is non-ideological and benefiting them. So they love them, and they probably want to see more of them. Now, will their appetite wane on this? Well, sure, if it starts to impact their pocketbook, if they see their taxes go up. I mean, we're - like Jonah said, we're heading into completely different territory.

INSKEEP: Let me ask you, Salena Zito, about something you wrote in The Atlantic and that's been quoted many places, that the media took Donald Trump, the candidate, literally but not seriously whereas Trump supporters took him seriously but not literally. And I want to bring it up because Trump's aides and supporters are now repeating this. Don't take him literally, essentially admitting he doesn't tell the truth quite often. What are we supposed to make of a president who up front tells you he's not going to tell you the truth?

ZITO: Well, one of the appeals about Trump is that - among voters - he's not a politician and he doesn't behave in the same way. He does not take words with the same value that we do. OK. So he would think - I mean, he had no problem about selling this great condo that never even broke ground yet. So, you know, that's - voters hear his tone and they understand that there's hyperbole attached to what he says. But with that tone that he has, they believe that he has their back.

INSKEEP: Jonah, is this is liberating? We can just point out he's being false and he admits he's being false about it, or his supporters do, and that's just what it is.

GOLDBERG: Well, first of all, as a pundit, I think that Salena should get royalties every time someone uses...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I'm sure Salena does too.

GOLDBERG: But look, first of all, I agree with Salena that Trump's voters, Trump's core voters, think this way, see this way. But a lot of other voters do take him literally, and they kind of should. Presidents, you know, you're not allowed to make jokes about having a bomb when you go to the airport. Presidents have to watch what they say, particularly in international relations. And to just simply go with your gut and to get a pass from it from the media and from everybody else sounds crazy to me.

MARTIN: We'll have to leave it there. Jonah Goldberg, senior editor at The National Review and columnist with The LA Times, and Salena Zito, national politics reporter for CNN, thanks to you both.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

ZITO: Thanks guys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.